CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There might not be any such thing as a free lunch, but at least there are free fishing days.
For two days each spring, West Virginia fisheries officials invite people to fish the state's creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes without first having to purchase a fishing license. This year's free days will be June 8 and 9.
Bret Preston, the Division of Natural Resources' fisheries chief, said the goal of the annual event is simple and direct - to get more people fishing.
"We hold a couple of events that are designed specifically to get children involved," he explained. "One is a fishing derby at our trout hatchery at Bowden, and the other is a fishing derby at the lake at Little Beaver State Park near Beckley.
"The idea of offering license-free fishing is an attempt to give adults - either lapsed anglers or people who have never before been anglers - an opportunity to get out and enjoy the many fishing opportunities our state offers."
The Bowden and Little Beaver fishing derbies have proved popular down through the years.
"They're long-running special events, and people love them," Preston said. "It's not unusual for us to have 300 to 400 kids show up to fish."
The Bowden derby will begin June 8 at 8 a.m., and will end at 1:30 p.m. Registration will start at 7:30 a.m. Organizers will award prizes for top catches and for a casting contest to be held during the day.
The Little Beaver event, also scheduled for June 8, will begin at 9 a.m. and will end at noon. Organizers will provide bait and a free lunch, and will hand out prizes and t-shirts after the fishing ends.
Preston said DNR officials hope parents, even if they don't live near one of the popular fishing derbies, will take advantage of the license-free weekend to take their kids fishing somewhere.
"One thing we've tried to do over the past several years is to stock catchable-sized channel catfish in small, easily accessible small impoundments and state-park lakes," he said. "Those stockings are designed to provide family fishing opportunities during the summer."
Preston said DNR administrators can't be 100 percent sure how effective the Free Fishing Days are at helping to recruit anglers, but added that answers might soon be forthcoming.
"When we go to fully electronic licensing, we might be able to contact a sample of our license holders to see if having those free days helped get them interested in fishing, or helped reintroduce them to it," he said.
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.